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Other Inadequacy in physics

  1. Jul 22, 2017 #1
    I'm going into my Junior year of undergrad as a physics major and can't help but feeling very inadequate. Notwithstanding that I do well in my physics classes, for some reason I don't think I know much physics at all. Surely, I can run through the motions of plugging and chugging equations but I haven't much of a grasp of what I'm studying or what it means. Especially now that my classes are focusing on and pushing deeper into some of the more esoteric topics like QM. Anyone else around this stage tend to have a similar experience?
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  3. Jul 22, 2017 #2
    By the way, I reposted this here after originally posting in the Career Guidance forum. I think here is more applicable.
  4. Jul 23, 2017 #3
    Feelings of inadequacy popped up a number of times during my educational and professional career. My approach has been to keep working hard and do the best I can, which in hindsight, was usually pretty well. You'll never have guarantees beforehand that everything will go as you are hoping for, and, many things will go poorly over the course of your education and career. But in the long run, hard work pays off - not every time, but on average.
  5. Jul 23, 2017 #4


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    Just taking a course and doing some (even lots) of practice problems will introduce you to a topic, but I find it rarely is enough to generate a feeling of competence in the topic. That tends to come later. For me it's usually after I've worked with it for a while on a project or two and sometimes even then my understanding still feels superficial. But eventually after you work with it more and more your understanding deepens.

    I worry more about people who feel they've mastered something after a brief introduction than those who lack confidence, but keep working.
  6. Jul 23, 2017 #5
    Classes are one way to learn, and depending on the professor, student, school, etc. you may come away feeling like you haven't learned much. I didn't understand astronomy very well and what it entailed at all until I started doing research in it. A lot of times I'd come away from a class feeling like I got an A without learning a whole lot, especially with a bad professor, but once I started research I really got a feel for how much I actually learned and how much I had yet to learn. Incidentally, once I really dug into the nitty-gritty of data analysis and the technical side of things in research, I found I learned a lot more a lot faster. So I'd hold off on passing a judgment on your future in physics until you actually try to do some real research. You may find your feelings of inadequacy improve.

    It's important to remember too that satisfaction and feelings towards your studies aren't a constant or linear function. They are sine curves, and you'll have ups and downs no matter how smart or successful you are in Physics. I'd recommend what Dr. Courtney suggested and just keep on trucking, you'll be surprised how much time can heal these feelings you're having.
  7. Jul 24, 2017 #6
    I appreciate the advice. As Dr. Courtney and PhotonSSBM are saying, I suppose for now I'll keep pushing through and working through material.
  8. Jul 24, 2017 #7
    That's where my concern really lies, having just a superficial knowledge of topics but not truly understanding them. I haven't had much opportunity to work on projects yet, but hopefully I'll be able to get there at some point and get a better grasp.
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